I read this in some magazine once: the reason the women’s magazines’ advice relating to men doesn’t work is because it is women telling women what men want!
A friend, let’s call her Sachi, has terrible in-laws, extraordinarily terrible actually, way beyond the infamous Lalita Pawar avatar of Bollywood cinema. We do understand a mother-in-law not being able to love her daughter-in-law in the same way she cares for her child, but in this case, the mother-in-law did not even love her son, or perhaps cared for him less than she did for her own self. The same was valid for the father. However strange this may sound for a family nation that we Indians are known to be, it was true! And of course the son was oblivious of this fact and thought he was the quintessential aankh ka taara.
Now for a twist in the tale, it wasn’t always like that. A few years ago, he had just started his business and so was turning over only a small profit. The parents limited their relationship with him to casual small talk at the dinner and didn’t have much of an opinion on any aspect of his life. This took a drastic 180 degree turn when his business started to take off and the son became the goose who laid golden eggs. The vicious pythons locked their eyes on the prey and suddenly had advice on everything from what to eat to who to trust. The poor Goose had no inkling that his changed economic status had become the source of his bane as his parents subtly poisoned his mind against his wife of 17 years. You are gritting your teeth; which man turns against his wife? Actually the scenario is very ripe in that sense, to sow the seeds of dissent.
They say that nothing annoying one’s spouse does to his/her partner is considered unintentional once they have lived together for enough years. For one, by then, must know the irritants of another and if one still does so, how can it be explained in any other way except for an intent to hurt? And to say the partner was negligent also doesn’t help for how can one be unthoughtful of a person so important? So the atmosphere is just ripe to tip the tipping point. In Sachi’s case, it started with subtle hints of how she had been careless with the husband’s hard-earned money in addition to being mean to his parents, and that her temper made her children fearful of her and thus subdued. Cutting a long story short, before Sachi could even realize the gameplay of the resident senior members, she had already turned into the ‘mean bitch’ in her beloved hubby’s eyes.
Now Sachi is smart, in a good corporate job, a decent parent and reasonably attractive. She was not one of those abla naaris we see in popular T.V. shows. After visiting a series of therapists, she came to the conclusion that they would need to move out and create a physical distance from the slow-poisoning aged pythons at home. This was the only way to save her marriage and regain some sense of peace between them. She began house hunting to move out as soon as possible.
Now the in-laws were happy about the decision, they would be the sole residents of the luxurious apartment (the Shravan Kumar of a son would move out rather than make his old parents do so). Sachi, despite hating the tension this created between her husband and herself, thought of the larger picture and used all her spare hours to look for a movable house. The Goose, however, was miserable about the impending change and alternated between sadness and anger as he tried everything in his repertoire to make peace between the warring parents and his wife.
Finally, very much like the proverbial last straw, it was a seemingly irrelevant episode that triggered the actual moving out. Sachi packed her bags and with an angry but helpless husband in tow, moved out of the house she had so lovingly built and decorated.
The four adults were now on very different tangents. The parents were waiting for the daughter-in-law to come back (if at all) on bent knees, the son wanted to be back in his home and so was trying to play the peacemaker between the two warring factions, and Sachi on the other hand was focused on starting a new life without the in-laws’ vicious interference and was hell-bent on never sharing the same roof ever again.
So amongst the four, it was the Goose who wanted the old status quo back desperately, for him, every moment in the other house was being away from home! He began a systematic perusal of his goal and tried all the weapons in his arsenal – pleading, guilt tripping, threats, withdrawal and emotional blackmail. All of it only on his wife, for by then he understood that she was the only person he had any influence or power over.
During one such passive agreement treatment, Sachi succumbed to the pressure and agreed to return to her hubby’s home. They were to pack and move the following weekend. Though she had agreed to move back, the thought that now a worse fate awaited her in the house nagged her constantly. She felt trapped but could not see a way out. The move had not helped their relationship as she had thought, if anything it had made things worse for her husband. He was consumed with guilt of abandoning his parents and he subconsciously blamed her for all of it. I had never seen Sachi so down and out and suggested she visit a clinical psychiatrist who started her on anti-depression and anti-anxiety pills. I made a coffee program to cheer her up for which she came alone. The conversation of course drifted to her moving back.
“You can’t move back Sachi,” one of the men in our group said. “He will not respect you for this. Take it from a man.”
“He will not respect me? What do you even mean? I am going back for him, surely he knows that!” She said in deep anguish.
“Exactly. He knows that. And if you give in to him now he will know that he can push you around. You will be setting a rule, in stone. A rule that will eventually ruin the balance that a good marriage must have. As inevitable as compromising is for coupledom, standing ground when necessary is equally important, however difficult or anti-marital the stance may seem in the short run.”
His problem today is also one of how does he explain to people?” He went on, “Leaving his parents in their old age and moving to a rented property? How will he explain and what? That he has not lost money, that his parents are being unfair? But, between your rightful anguish and his need for resuming the status quo, the more urgent stand must be respected. You must not move Sachi.” He said with a finality.
Today it has been more than two years now and things turned out rather well for them. Sachi stood her ground and as time passed, her husband eventually saw how unreasonable his parents were being! In time, their relationship improved too. At a dinner a few months later, he opened up about the rocky events of the previous year. “I couldn’t see the politics of it all. You know, because they were not bad to me, I could never really understand how they could be bad to her. Moreover, I was not fixing the things they damaged (home, staff, etc.) and so the problems they created never really bothered me. But I think I finally see it. Now we all respect each other’s boundaries and things are getting better.”
They are not living under the same roof but in the same society/residential area.
This got me thinking about having friends of the opposite gender. Same sex friends will perhaps agree to our viewpoint of the conflicts in a relationship but opposite sex friendships are better equipped to suggest solutions from their own gender specific point of view. Men are from Mars and women from Venus, right? Can we be good partners in committed relationships unless we have friends of the opposite gender who give us peeps into the heart, soul and mind of our partners based on their knowledge of the same sex - how they view the world, money, relationships, friendships etc. But, as a society we discourage close friendships between opposite genders, especially when in a committed relationship because...Ladka aur ladki kabhi bhi acche dost nahi ban sakte hain!
Yes, this viewpoint can be debated endlessly as the dynamics between the gender relationships change with the changing socio-cultural mores, but one thing is certain, ladka aur ladki ek doosre ko sahi salah zaroor de sakte hain!
This was just one incident, but there are several more, and in navigating life, one needs opposite sex friendships to help us see things from a unique perspective. And this is true for both - men as well women. Men benefit from having women friends in the same way women benefit from having men friends. Something to think about...do we throw the baby with the bathwater?